- Background: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) imparts a substantial economic burden on western health systems. Our objective was to analyze the determinants of elevated healthcare utilization among patients with COPD in a single-payer health system. Methods: Three-hundred eighty-nine adults with COPD were matched 1:3 to controls by age, gender and area of residency. Total healthcare cost 5 years prior recruitment and presence of comorbidities were obtained from a computerized database. Health related quality of life (HRQoL) indices were obtained using validated questionnaires among a subsample of 177 patients. Results: Healthcare utilization was 3.4-fold higher among COPD patients compared with controls (p < 0.001). The “most-costly” upper 25% of COPD patients (n = 98) consumed 63% of all costs. Multivariate analysis revealed that independent determinants of being in the “most costly” group were (OR; 95% CI): age-adjusted Charlson Comorbidity Index (1.09; 1.01 - 1.2), history of: myocardial infarct (2.87; 1.5 - 5.5), congestive heart failure (3.52; 1.9 - 6.4), mild liver disease (3.83; 1.3 - 11.2) and diabetes (2.02; 1.1 - 3.6). Bivariate analysis revealed that cost increased as HRQoL declined and severity of airflow obstruction increased but these were not independent determinants in a multivariate analysis. Conclusion: Comorbidity burden determines elevated utilization for COPD patients. Decision makers should prioritize scarce health care resources to a better care management of the “most costly” patients.